Rejoicing in God’s Word
October 25, 2016
Dear Friend of The Fellowship,
The beginning of the Jewish year, marked this month with the observance of Rosh Hashanah, is a season of holy days and celebrations. The solemnity of the High Holy Days gives way to the joy of the week-long festival of Sukkot. Immediately following this is Simchat Torah (literally, “rejoicing in the Torah”), when we gather in our synagogues to celebrate the gift of God’s Word given to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Simchat Torah is one of our more festive holidays. But, more than just a celebration, it’s a holiday that embodies one of the foundational values of Judaism: a profound love and respect for the Torah (which Christians know as the first five books of the Old Testament). On Simchat Torah we both end and begin our annual cycle of Torah readings, an ongoing discipline that keeps us rooted in God’s Word and connected to each other with deep spiritual bonds.
As the holiday begins, all the Torah scrolls are carried around the sanctuary amid singing and dancing, with children leading the procession. (Traditional synagogue rules of decorum are suspended on this joyful day!) We read as a congregation the concluding portion of Deuteronomy and the first portion of Genesis. In this way we demonstrate our love for the Torah, and give thanks to God for the gift of His Word.
This day always reminds me of an unforgettable dedication ceremony I attended years ago in Israel. Through the generosity of our supporters, The Fellowship funded the construction of a spiritual centre for Ethiopian immigrants (though aliyah from Ethiopia has concluded, we continue to support such centres even today). How thrilling it was, as the Torah was carried in for the dedication ceremony, to watch the joy of these Jews who finally had come home!
It was an extraordinary scene that made a deep impression on me. I recall thinking what an incredible document the Torah is – how it binds Jews together, despite differences of race or national origin. And, through my years of interfaith work, I have come to understand that God’s Word binds together not only Jews, but Jews and Christians as well.
On Simchat Torah, we celebrate our love for the Torah and are reminded that we never stop being students of the Bible. Learning from and studying God’s Word is a lifelong process – there is always more to learn. Even the Hebrew term for a great Torah scholar is “talmid chakham,” meaning “wise student.”
One of the deepest truths we learn in the Torah is that our God is never-changing. We worship and serve the same God that the Israelites worshipped as they wandered in the desert. In a world of constant change, the constancy of our God and His word offers comfort and hope to Jews and Christians alike. May you come to know that comfort and hope in this and every season.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein